Wednesday. 22/1/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Opportunity knocks

It was quite the juxtaposition at the opening of the World Economic Forum on Tuesday. In a session entitled “Averting a Climate Apocalypse”, activist Greta Thunberg once again chastised world leaders for inaction. That followed a speech by one of those very leaders: Donald Trump urged everyone to be more hopeful and ignore “predictions of the apocalypse” and “prophets of doom”.

It would be easy for business leaders to heed Trump: he and other heads of state hold the regulatory levers, after all, and Thunberg does not. But aside from the fact that other countries (and even some US states) are putting far more pressure on firms to act on climate change than Trump is, there’s another simple reason for companies to lead the charge: green solutions are becoming both a profitable and essential practice.

In other words, it’s an opportunity and not a burden. “If you think in terms of businesses solving the problems of people and planet, then that is potentially one of the most exciting, important and profitable activities that a company can engage in,” says Colin Mayer of Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, who led his own panel discussion on corporate responsibility earlier in the day. Now there’s a hopeful message that business leaders can latch on to.

Culture / Davos

Beyond a joke

Today’s schedule for the World Economic Forum in Davos holds a surprise among its array of earnest topics: a panel discussion about laughter. Led by Sophie Scott, a neuroscientist and stand-up comic, “Why is Laughter Contagious?” looks to explore “the science of laughter and its power to unite”. It’s quite right that mirth should be addressed on such a prominent stage: it’s a funny time for humour and the subject deserves our attention. In the West and beyond, people are angry and tired of politics, while the Earth deteriorates around us. Yet despite this doom, many urbanites are living through an age of niceness and inclusivity; these are undeniably good things but can sometimes go hand-in-hand with earnestness. Humour often stems from irreverence, gaining its spark from the fact that it is unexpected or flirts dangerously close to inappropriateness. Although the wellness generation looks to juice cleanses and spin classes to make itself feel better, perhaps the real antidote to our world-weariness is to crack a one liner.

Politics / Canada

Capital injection

British Columbia’s Ktunaxa Nation received CA$21m (€14.5m) in private and federal funding this week to convert Jumbo Valley into a conservation area to be managed by First Nations. The mountainous region in southeastern BC has long been contentious: for 30 years it was slated to be developed as a billion-dollar ski resort but plans were scrapped due to a backlash from conservation groups and First Nations.

Now the site will be converted into an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area, which aims to maintain the connection between the Ktunaxa Nation and the land. It’s a move that many, including federal environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson and Ktunaxa Nation council chair Kathryn Teneese, praised as a significant step forward in the government’s efforts at reconciliation with First Nation communities. It’s also a sign that Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau might be more serious about listening to the concerns of indigenous people in his second term.

Society / Hong Kong

Taking a stand

Hong Kong’s annual Chinese New Year fair in Victoria Park is usually a time of community celebration as shoppers seek items to bring luck in the new year. But political unrest is casting a shadow over this year’s week-long event, which ends on Saturday. Hong Kong government officials have closed down two stalls for violating a widely publicised ban on selling politically-themed products. The stalls, operated by the left-wing League of Social Democrats, were selling T-shirts with pro-democracy slogans and featured a timeline of recent civil unrest alongside cartoons of Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam and Xi Jinping, and another showing a policeman beating protesters. Last weekend’s attendance at the government-run fair was low. That could be a result of unlicensed street markets popping up elsewhere in the city with more on offer than at the official event, which is limited to flowers and food. And the protests are sure to continue: activists are planning a week-long schedule of demonstrations to usher in the year of the rat.

Architecture / Denmark

Strong foundations

The architecture and design industry is so flooded with awards that it’s difficult to discern those with merit. But there is a prize that celebrates new projects in one of the world’s best-planned cities that is worth paying attention to. The Årets Arne is a Danish gong named after the master of modernism, Arne Jacobsen. Today its six shortlisted finalists will present newly built projects in Copenhagen to the judges before a winner is named next week. A metro line, an affordable housing scheme and a clever plaza by Danish architecture firm Cobe (pictured), which doubles as a space to park bikes, are some of the people-focused projects that are up for the prize. “We go beyond the discussion of aesthetics and taste and into society and climate change and how architecture can affect it,” says architect Jeanette Frisk from the Copenhagen Architectural Association, which runs the award. “When we move the conversation into this realm, we have really repositioned architecture.”

M24 / Monocle on Design

Ellen van Loon

We head to the newly completed School of Science and Sports at Brighton College in Sussex where we meet Dutch architect Ellen van Loon to hear about how to design spaces that encourage growth and learning.

Monocle Films / Global

Retail special: gin distilleries

Just like craft breweries, small local distilleries are reinventing drinks that have fallen out of fashion. Monocle Films visits three entrepreneurs who have uncorked the potential of the old spirit in London, Hamburg and the Finnish countryside.

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